The Dragon Tamers

Also known as
Nu Zi Tai Quan Qun Ying Hui
Specifics
Hong Kong [1975] - 107 mins
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Dragon Tamers poster

John Woo took a rather hesitant start to his career, but that is not uncommon for a Hong Kong director. The Dragon Tamers is a basic martial arts film that features one of two decent fight scenes, but fails on pretty much every other level. Woo's signature is also completely absent, but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

The plot is nothing special. A righteous martial art students vows to stop a criminal organization from taking over the martial schools in Korea, but before he can make a real difference he needs to be humbled first. If you've seen a couple of these oldskool martial arts flick, you've probably seen this plot a thousand times before.

The actors are mediocre and the fight choreographies are tame, especially when you compare them to Shaw Bros films from that time. The drama is very poor and the first half doesn't nearly have enough fight scenes to overcome that. Luckily the ending is quite action-packed, but it's not good enough to save this film.

Charge! Hakata Street Gangs

Also known as
Totsugeki! Hakata Gurentai
Specifics
Japan [1978] - 70 mins
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Charge! Hakata Street Gangs poster

Early Gakuryu/Sogo Ishii film. It feels a bit like a late 60s Wakamatsu feature, only sporting the first signs of the lively punk aesthetic that would come to define Ishii's work. It's nowhere near as impressive or effective as in his later films though, so this is mostly for those interested in Ishii's roots, or for people who think regular Ishii is a bit much.

Two homeless punks get themselves into trouble when they get a hold of a gun and get mixed up in criminal affairs. It doesn't take long before both the police and a local crime syndicate are on their tail, all they can do is run and hope they'll survive their ordeal. It's a pretty barren plot, then again plot has rarely been Ishii's main concern.

The camera work and editing are energetic, though they're nothing compared to later Japanese (cyber)punk films. The actors are mediocre and the soundtrack isn't quite as demanding yet. Ishii's style clearly had some ways to go, but fans will no doubt appreciate the first, tentative steps to what would be the prelude to the comeback of Japanese cinema.

The Laughing Frog

by Hideyuki Hirayama
Also known as
Warau Kaeru
Specifics
Japan [2002] - 96 mins
Genre
Comedy, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Laughing Frog poster

Not a bad film, but a little too subdued. A man decides to go back to his wife, after embezzling some money and disappearing from the face of the Earth for a while. She moved on with her life and isn't happy to see him return, but she still feels responsible for her husband and offers him shelter for the time being.

But things quickly become awkward, especially when her new boyfriend comes over to visit. A nosy detective makes things more tense and a meddling family further complicates matters. It's a solid setup for an entertaining farce, but the presentation is rather stoic and the film never truly comes to life.

Performances are good though and The Laughing Frog is never dull of boring, it just would've been better if Hirayama had opted for a more lively approach. Visually it's a bit grim, the soundtrack is not exactly memorable and the pacing just a tad slow for this type of film. It's decent filler, but nothing too special.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

by Peter Greenaway
Specifics
Belgium, France [2015] - 105 mins
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Eisenstein in Guanajuato poster

Not your typical biography, then again Greenaway isn't your typical director either. A pretty quirky look at Eisenstein's passage in Mexico, focusing on his sexual awakening more so than on his work as a filmmaker. That may put people off, especially big Eisenstein fans, but I found it quite refreshing.

Greenaway also pays homage to Eisenstein's visual style, with many unique cuts and lots of visual trickery. It's a shame though he doesn't keep it up for the entire film. Still, there is plenty to admire here. Split screens, sharp editing, cool camera work and fun fades add a lot of extra flavor to the film.

Eisenstein is portrayed as a very colorful character and Greenaway has a lot of fun with him. Not sure how historically correct it all is, but at least it makes for a better film. There's not quite enough here for a 90-minute feature and the second half doesn't feel quite as fresh, but this was surprisingly fun and creative.

Swallowtail Butterfly

Also known as
Suwarôteiru
Specifics
Japan [1996] - 148 mins
Genre
Drama, Sci-fi
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Swallowtail Butterfly poster

A vibrant and wild trip through an alternative world. One where the yen became the dominant currency and foreigners flocked to Japan to earn a quick buck. It's one of the least typical films in Iwai's oeuvre, but also one of the most interesting. While a little uneven in places, there is so much raw energy here that I had no trouble convincing me of its strengths a second time around.

The Generation Gap

Also known as
Pan Ni
Specifics
Hong Kong [1973] - 112 mins
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Generation Gap poster

Chang's worst film so far, which is quite a thing to say after having seen nearly 50 of his films. Chang is best known for his martial arts work, but from time to time he tried something different. Understandable, but it never really amounted to anything. Chang goes full-on drama/romance here, with disastrous results.

Casting a martial arts icon in a dramatic role is always a risk, but it's David Chiang's love interest who really messes things up. Not only is Agnes Chan a pretty bad actress, she's also a terrible singer. And this films features quite a few English pop songs covered by Chan. To call it grating is actually an understatement.

The plot about a forbidden (or at least frowned upon) love isn't very interesting either, especially not without any good performances to support it. The titular generation gap is never properly explored and the few action scenes that are here only underline the complete incompetence of this film. For completists only.

Collateral Beauty

by David Frankel
Specifics
USA [2016] - 97 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Collateral Beauty poster

An interesting idea, ruined by a director who's going straight for shameless sentimentality. That shouldn't be too big of a surprise considering Frankel's history, but usually he sticks to filming pretty basic genre films that don't aspire to be anything more than big budget filler. Collateral Beauty is a little different.

The premise at least was pretty interesting. Three friends/colleagues are trying to save a man who slipped into a depression after his daughter died. They do that by hiring a trio of actors to play love, death and time, the three abstract concepts that form the cornerstone of his take on life. But bringing him back to the real world turns out to be more difficult than expected.

Performances are decent, though Smith, Knightley, Peña and Winslet all struggle to make a real impression. Frankel's heavy-handed and garish direction doesn't make it any easier for them. The drama never really hits home and the execution of the premise lacks creativity and vision. Somewhat disappointing.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

by Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Specifics
USA, China [2016] - 87 mins
Genre
Comedy, Music
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping poster

A hilarious mockumentary that suits The Lonely Island crew perfectly. It helps to be familiar with their particular brand of comedy, on the other hand this is without a doubt one of the best introductions into their work. Popstar is slick, dense and committed to a level you rarely see in comedy films.

The film works on three levels. First of all, it is a pretty straightforward but effective parody of the pop documentary genre (think Justin Bieber's). Then there's the comedy of the songs themselves, which features some very nice stabs at the randomness and shallowness of pop music. But what really sets this apart is the fact that the songs are actual, bona fide, catchy pop songs. That's different from acts like "Weird Al" Yankovic or Flight of the Conchords, who get a bit doubty when the comedy element is stripped away.

Taccone, Schaffer and Samberg are great, the supporting cast is ace too and many of the cameos are priceless, not in the least because many of them are not afraid to make fools of themselves. The only thing that keeps me from giving is a higher mark is that the second half doesn't feel quite as sharp, but that's just a minor glitch in an otherwise great film.

Razorback

by Russell Mulcahy
Specifics
Australia [1984] - 95 mins
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Razorback poster

This was pretty bonkers. Not quite as mad or gory as early Peter Jackson, but it's never that far off either. Razorback is a juicy, over-the-top horror comedy that doesn't go for explicit laughs, but is filled to the brim with outrageous characters, ridiculous situations and one giant boar (the razorback).

But it's not just cheese, the cinematography is pretty great for an 80s film, the score is very atmospheric and the effects look pretty nice still, though it's clear that the budget was quite limited. The monster is never full on screen and the finale looks a bit too cut up, but overall the quality is surprisingly high.

Also props for the crazy Australian hillbillies, who give the film some extra spice. This was a pretty nice mix of comedy and horror in other words. I'm suprised I'd never heard about this film before, it really deserves to be a bigger cult hit than it currently is. If you want a fun little horror and haven't seen this one yet, this comes well recommended.

Open Season

by Roger Allers, Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi
Specifics
USA [2006] - 86 mins
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Open Season poster

Another drab US animation, though Sony does a slightly better job than their DreamWorks competitors. While the difference is overall small and Open Season is just as annoying as most other films in the genre, the slightly more abstract visuals gives the film a bit more character. That at least is something.

It's still very loud and obnoxious though. Almost every character seems to be suffering from ADD. Even though these films are short in general, they still manage to tire me out really quickly. It also doesn't help that the jokes are tiresome and most of the action feels copied from other, better films.

I'm sure Open Season is okay for its target audience, the fact that it spawned several sequels indicates it was at least a financial success. I just wish they'd go for a different type of comedy, slow things down a little (as they do a couple of times, to good effect) and deliver a film that aspires to do more than rile up kids at a birthday party.

Accidental Kidnapper

by Hideo Sakaki
Also known as
Yûkai Rhapsody
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 111 mins
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Accidental Kidnapper poster

A pleasant and respectable little comedy. The title pretty much gives away what you can expect from this one. Date is a man on the edge of desperation, but after some failed suicide attempts he bumps into a little boy who is trying to run away from home. The boy tells him his family is rich, so Date figures this might put his life back on the rails.

While this all sounds rather violent, Date is a kind soul and quickly develops a strong bond with the kid. There are some Kikujiro-like moments and whatever violence there is, is mostly played for laughs. The film is a tad too long maybe, but at least the ending isn't quite as cheesy as I expected it to be.

Takahashi and Hayashi have good chemistry and Hayashi in particular does a great job. Kid actors are always a liability, but he is clearly one of the stars of the film. Shô Aikawa is also great to have around, but that is no surprise. While Accidental Kidnapper isn't the greatest Japanese comedy ever, it's a fun little diversion and solid filler than is sure to put a smile on your face.

Violent Virgin

Also known as
Gewalt! Gewalt: Shojo Geba-Geba
Specifics
Japan [1969] - 66 mins
Genre
Horror, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Violent Virgin poster

One of Wakamatsu's better films. 1969 was a good year for him. Not only did he direct a ton of films, many of them ending up becoming stand-outs in his oeuvre. Violent Virgin contains all the typical Wakamatsu traits and combines them into a surreal trip that bewilders, disgusts and intrigues in equal amounts.

Like many of his films, Violent Virgin is not an easy watch. It's a sort of prelude to the American rape/revenge films of the 70s (think I Spit On Your Grave or The Last House on the Left) that would give the horror genre a serious boost, only Wakamatsu's films are more skillfully and artfully executed.

Lush, high contrast black and white cinematography, perverse games, amoral behavior, rape, murder, it's all here. There isn't much in the way of plot, then again it's a pretty short film so there's really no time for it to get boring. Probably not the easiest introduction to Wakamatsu's work, but definitely one of the better films I've seen from him.

Da 5 Bloods

Specifics
USA [2020] - 154 mins
Genre
Action, War
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Da 5 Bloods poster

Spike Lee must've had a clear vision when he started this project, but I dearly hope it wasn't anything close to this devastating mess. Da 5 Bloods feels like a film that wanted to say a lot of important things, but ultimately it comes off as a very bad pastiche. Not once does Lee find the right tone for his film.

With four black veterans returning to Vietnam to honor their fallen friend, the film has a perfect setup to revisit the Vietnam War and tell it from a black perspective. Throw in some gold hunting plot for a little adventure and suspense, and you have all the ingredients for a great film. Why then did it feel like a bad comedy, something that holds the middle between a bad Apocalypse Now rip-off and a subpar jungle-set JCVD action flick.

Performances are poor, the action scenes are drab, the dramatic moments are laughable and the political inserts are completely overshadowed by the incompetence surrounding them. The entire film is such a big mess that it is actually quite amusing to watch (at least to see where it is going), but in the end if feels like Lee overreached tremendously and couldn't stop himself from falling flat on his face. This wasn't any good.

Right Here Right Now

by Jakob Lass
Also known as
So Was Von Da
Specifics
Germany [2018] - 100 mins
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Right Here Right Now poster

It feels like director Lass tried to make his own Trainspotting here. A group of kids organizes an illegal rave in some soon-to-be-demolished venue. There's a lot of partying, a fair amount of substance abuse, a touch of criminal activity and an underlying romance to keep something of a plot going.

The problem with Right Here Right Now is that it isn't quite as cool as it aims to be. Lass does his best to play with structure, throws some slightly edgier dance and rock on the soundtrack, goes wild with the cinematography and is generous with the editing, resulting in lots of jump cuts.

But the soundtrack feels a little tame, there isn't enough visual creativity and the characters are quite dull too. There are moments when everything comes together wonderfully and the film really shines in these moments, but it's not constant enough to turn this into a real masterpiece. It's a fine attempt though, I had a lot of fun with this one.

Who's Camus Anyway

by Mitsuo Yanagimachi
Also known as
Kamyu Nante Shiranai
Specifics
Japan [2005] - 115 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Who's Camus Anyway poster

Films about films, not my favorite niche. Who's Camus Anyway fits the genre rather well, with lots of name-dropping, an eagerness to underline the frantic nature of film productions and characters who like to put themselves in the spotlight. This isn't the most original of films, but Yanagimachi does a decent job regardless.

A lot of classic references here, mostly to the big names of the 50s and 60s. If you like yourself some Godard, Visconti, Truffaut or you love to cite the lengths of famous tracking shots to your film buddies, then you might be the target audience of the film. It's not really what I'm looking for in good cinema though.

Luckily there is some solid drama running underneath all the film stuff. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but a fine cast and some poignant scenes (especially near the end of film) keep the intrigue alive. It's enough to make this a pretty decent watch, but it's hardly a highlight in the Japanese drama genre.

When I Look Upon the Stars

Also known as
Tian Xuan Di Lian
Specifics
Hong Kong [1999] - 102 mins
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
When I Look Upon the Stars poster

Dante Lam is a fine action director, romance and drama on the other hand aren't really his thing. Lam made When I Look Upon the Stars when he just started out, at a time when he was still searching for a niche he felt at home in. While he does his best to make things work, the romance never takes off.

Chan and Ku aren't the best actors for the job, Qi and Lee are better equipped to handle this type of work, but have trouble connecting with their partners. The cheesy soundtrack and rather pedestrian cinematography don't really add to the atmosphere either. It's all just a little too functional to be truly effective.

That said, it's not the worst film either. The characters are quite interesting and there are a few scenes where things move in the right direction, it's just that it never materializes into something bigger. This is passable filler, just don't go in expecting a typical Lam action flick, as you're bound to end up sorely disappointed.

Becky

by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Specifics
USA [2020] - 100 mins
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Becky poster

An interesting idea, that stumbles a little in its execution. The setup is fine though, with a freshly blended family being overrun by hardened criminals on their very first vacation together. It doesn't take long before bodies start hitting the ground and it's up to Becky, the 14-year-old daughter, to save her new family from ruin.

That means much of the weight rests on Lulu Wilson's shoulders, sadly she can't quite deliver. At no point in the film did I believe she was actually besting a couple of cruel killers, the traps she builds also give Becky too much of a Home Alone vibe. It comes off a bit childish, which clearly wasn't what the directors were going for.

Because believe it or not, the film is actually quite gory. When people die, the camera isn't shy, even eager to register all the bloody bits. As a horror film, this was quite a success, but the meager drama, lacking characters and a couple of horrid twists take a lot away from the edginess Murnion and Milott were chasing. Not bad, but should've been better.

Outcast

by Nick Powell
Specifics
Canada, USA [2014] - 99 mins
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Outcast poster

A simple action adventure about a couple of wayward crusaders making amends in the Far East for their past crimes. It's a pretty cheap excuse to make a China-Hollywood cross-over with some (semi-)famous actors, but at least the result is watchable, depending on what you expect from a film.

Powell makes good use of the beautiful setting and the film contains a couple of decent action scenes, that's pretty much the appeal of Outcast. The plot is very basic, the drama in between is forgettable and the additional elements (like a spineless romance and some failed comedy) really don't help to make the film any better.

The cinematography is solid, the fight choreography passable (but not really noteworthy), the pacing acceptable and the runtime nice and short. If you like a bit of action, Outcast has enough to keep you entertained, as long as you don't expect anything too exceptional. Decent filler, nothing more, nothing less.

Bayside Shakedown 2

by Katsuyuki Motohiro
Also known as
Odoru Daisosasen the Movie 2: Rainbow Bridge wo Fuusa Seyo!
Specifics
Japan [2003] - 138 mins
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Bayside Shakedown 2 poster

Popular TV franchise that successfully expanded into feature film territory. The films are still very much made-for-TV quality though, with a rather obscure cast, few cinematic aspirations and a plot that feels like a stretched out TV episode. A fairly typical problem with this type of production.

The plot/set-up is quite predictable for a police series. When people start dying in the Bayside area, the SAT steps in and goes over the heads of the local police force. They won't have any of it, and a spirited detective takes it upon himself to solve the case. I've seen this play out countless times before, this film adds little to it.

There is some intrigue that works and even though the film is quite long, it never really starts to drag. The problem is that there are hardly any real highlights either. The film just meanders from start to finish, offering the bare minimum amount of entertainment to stay engaged, but nothing more. Decent filler in other words.

Touch and Go

Also known as
Yi Chu Ji Fa
Specifics
Hong Kong [1991] - 97 mins
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Touch and Go poster

A rather basic action film from Ringo Lam. Like most of his films, it's a tad grittier than its contemporaries, but also lacking the joy and creativity that makes Hong Kong action so much fun to watch. With a headliner like Sammo Hung, this film should've been way more entertaining than it turned out to be.

There is too much focus on the drama, especially for a film where the performances are poor and the plot is derivative. Touch and Go is a run-of-the-mill action flick, what's the point on spending so much time on characters that never come to life anyway. A lighter tone and a couple more action scenes would've gone a long way to make this better.

It's not the first time that I felt this way about one of Lam's films, so people who are fan of his work are almost guaranteed to get something out of it. The few action scenes that are present are pretty solid, sporting some impressive practical stunt work, but it just wasn't enough to save the film for me.

Artemis Fowl

by Kenneth Branagh
Specifics
USA [2020] - 95 mins
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Artemis Fowl poster

A pretty expensive flop from Disney (and Branagh). They must've figured that the IP was enough to draw crowds to the cinema, but then a worldwide pandemic happened. And well, at least it kept people from overspending on this lackluster disaster. This is not how you do compelling fantasy.

The film is aimed at a younger audience, though many of its popular references (David Bowie, Foreigner) seem to be reserved for the parents accompanying their kids. Regardless of the film's target audience though, Shaw gives a cringeworthy performance, the fantasy designs are lazy and the plot is messy.

I'm sure this film was meant the first part of a franchise, but the way things are going I wouldn't expect any sequels anytime soon. Artemis Fowl turned out to be a pretty expensive flop, with few redeeming elements and no clear path forward. Let's just hope Disney pulls the plug, so we don't need to sit through any follow-ups.

Flushed Away

by David Bowers, Sam Fell
Specifics
USA, UK [2006] - 85 mins
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Flushed Away poster

A terribly disappointing Aardman production. Their stop-motion work is usually pretty charming, but when they go full CG little of that charm remains. Flushed Away feels way more like a basic Dreamworks films. There's a lot of noise, a lot of failed gags and 80 minutes later it's done, having left no impression at all.

The animation isn't all that great either, which is a bummer because technical excellence is usually the only thing to look forward to with these films. The characters are pretty dumb, the comedy is so predictable that it has no chance of becoming funny and the voice actors do a pretty poor job all.

At least the film is short and moves about at a pretty brisk pace, otherwise it would've been true hell to sit through. It is quite devastating to see how poor these American CG animations are across the board, they all look alike, and they're all pretty much horrible. It's a shame they keep on making so much money.

Dog Star

by Takahisa Zeze
Specifics
Japan [2002] - 125 mins
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Dog Star poster

A pretty decent drama by Zeze, though not as edgy as you might expect it to be. I also don't think Zeze's style is particularly well-suited for these more subdued dramas, but the film itself has its moments. It's a little uneven in places, nothing everything works as well as intended, but fans of the genre should be able to get something out of it.

Etsushi Toyokawa and Ryo Ishibashi make a fun duo here, Haruka Igawa's part felt less confident. The story, about a dog turned human who ends up with his former owner is a tad cheesy though, the soundtrack borders on the verge of kitsch and the runtime is a bit long for a film of this caliber.

Luckily Zeze knows to balance this with some solid drama, the kind that is quite typical for those early millennial Japanese films. Important events are almost shown like static manga panels, focusing more on the aftermath than on certain faithful events. It's a bit dry, but it helps to contrast the sappier bits elsewhere. Overall a pretty solid film in other words, but not a real highlight.

Kaleidoscope

by Naomi Kawase
Also known as
Mangekyô
Specifics
Japan [1999] - 90 mins
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Kaleidoscope poster

Early Kawase documentary that feels empty and inconsequential. Kawase follows one photographer and two models on a photo shoot. As a director she also participates in the documentary, steering the conversations and critically questioning her subjects, but it never results in something meaningful.

Afterwards, it's hard to distill any kind of tangible topics or themes. The photographer appears to be overthinking his job, the models on the other hand feel lost and uncertain of what is expected of them. But these are very pedestrian problems and observations, nothing I felt should warrant an 80-minute documentary.

I'm sure this sounded way more interesting when Kawase thought up the idea, people who are interested in everyday slices of life might get something out of it, but it didn't do very little for me. The awkward and and stilted conversations held a smidgen of appeal, beyond that it's completely forgettable.